Calon Lân, the Welsh Hymn which became a rugby anthem

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Old music sheet

Lessons

Lesson 1

Lesson 2

On the 12th March 1881 Cardiff beat Llanelli in the fourth South Wales Challenge Cup Final. On that exact same day an historical meeting was held at The Castle Hotel, Castell-nedd to consider the question of establishing a Welsh Rugby Union.

Representatives of eleven Welsh clubs attended that momentous meeting – Llanelli, Llanbedr Pont Steffan, Llandeilo, Caerdydd, Casnewydd, Merthyr, Llanymddyfri, Aberhonddu, Pontypool and Bangor. Following much positive discussion, it was proposed that a Welsh Rugby Football Union be formed.

Approximately 33 years later on 23 January 1848, ten miles down the road in Llanelli, Mary James and her stonemason husband Daniel had a baby boy. The younger Daniel James came to the world in a small cottage – he was one of 5 siblings.

His family’s poverty and the untimely death of his father meant that James became a labourer at the Landore Tinplate Works at the age of 13. He continued working there until its closure around 1894, at which point he became a miner, then later in life a cemetery caretaker.

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Life seemed to be a constant challenge for James – as well as battling poverty he was a father and stepfather to many children and was sadly widowed twice. His latter years saw him not only battling health problems but also bearing the weight of losing one of his sons.

It may be of little surprise that Daniel James could often be seen easing the dreariness of life at the local tafarn [inn]. It is said that he was rather too fond of drinking and often spent his free hours roosting in his own special chair at the King’s Head, Treboeth, marinated in beer.

It is surprising that James could afford any beer at all, but labouring wasn’t his only source of income – he also had a passion for poetry.

He was instructed in the art of Welsh poetry by D.W. Thomas, an elder at Mynyddbach Chapel who saw some potential in him. James quickly became proficient and started writing poems under the pseudonym Dafydd Mynyddbach, which he later changed to Gwyrosydd.

He was a popular poet whose songs and verses often earned him beer money from eager audiences at the King’s Head.

It is believed that James wrote the words to Calon Lân on the back of a cigarette packet in a tafarn in the 1890s. It was later put to music by the Welsh composer Landore John Hughes and is rumoured to have been performed for the first time at the Blaengarw Hotel. Though over the years this beautiful hymn has been sung to four different tunes, that of John Hughes remains the most popular.

Despite (or maybe because of) life’s many challenges, James became a prolific poet and by 1898 three volumes of his work had been published: Caneuon Gwyrosydd, Caniadau Gwyrosydd and Aeron Awen Gwyrosydd. Calon Lân was published in the second book and soon became widely beloved.

Its beautiful words and memorable melody are a popular choice for weddings, funerals and gatherings throughout Wales. But in recent years it has become known as one of the best loved rugby anthems, being sung by choirs and crowds at Wales internationals, even when we’re losing.

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